Our last chance to put people to work?

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Our economy belongs to the private sector. But the private sector isn’t investing heavily in jobs of any kind. In the first eighteen months after the recession ended, 88 percent of economic growth went to corporate profits. 1% went to wages and salaries.  More importantly, in a break from a past practice, a much smaller percentage of those profits were reinvested in the companies, instead being applied to buybacks and mergers.
 
So it seems it’s up to Washington.
 
The President, to his credit, has been trying. His original, comprehensive jobs bill would have injected more money into the consumer economy and spur investment in infrastructural improvements. That package didn’t make it out of the Senate.
 
There’s broad support for reviving at least the infrastructural components of his proposal. The AFL- CIO and Chamber of Commerce have renewed their call for such investment. And we would echo it – particularly when it comes to our water infrastructure.
 
A recent study released by Green For All in conjunction with American Rivers, the Economic Policy Institute, and the Pacific Institute found that we could create nearly 1.9 million jobs simply by investing $188 billion in upgrading our water system to the minimum standard set by the EPA. We found that this economic environment was the ideal time for such an investment: people need the jobs, and the cost of financing is extremely low, as is the cost of construction. We’ve been postponing investments in infrastructure across the board – we now invest one-third less in water infrastructure as a share of the economy than we did in 1975.
 
This is just one segment of the investment the government could make. We could be building and improving roads, upgrading bridges, expanding air- and seaports. We could be hiring the private sector to do important work – thereby creating jobs and spurring private businesses to invest in equipment. And, of course, we could take advantage of smarter, greener ways to build – ways that can reduce upkeep costs over the long-term.
 
In an ideal world, the economy would be spiraling upward: strong consumer spending would spur an economic boom, creating jobs and promoting spending. We’re not in that world. The private sector isn’t putting people to work fast enough. They’re not making the investments we need.
 
Let’s let the government hire the private sector to do work we need to have done. Let’s get those unemployed construction workers back on the job.
 
And let’s do it now.

Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins is the Chief Executive Officer of Green For All.  Under her leadership, Green For All has become one of the country’s leading advocates for a clean energy economy, and one of its most important voices on the intersection of economics and environment.